Today, May 23, is the feast day of St. Julia of Corsica, a martyr of the fifth century.
Julia was a Carthaginian girl who, after being captured from her city, came into the service of a man named Eusebius. Vitensis does not say how she came into service, but the statement is usually interpreted that she was sold as a slave after Gaiseric captured Carthage in 439. It is known that he disposed of many recalcitrant Christians in this way, especially women. As a young and strong female, Julia would have brought a good price for the Vandals (who later turned to piracy, including slave-dealing.)
Vitensis says that she served “a fleshly master” but she followed Ephesians 6:6 and Colossians 3:22. Even though he was a pagan, he admired so great a virtue in service. When her own duties were done and she was granted the servant’s time off, she spent her spare time either in reading or insisting on praying. She grew pale and thin from fasting despite the threats and blandishments of her master, but her mind, intent on Heaven, fed daily on God’s words.
Eusebius, a citizen of Syria in Palestine, rowing hard for Gaul with an expensive cargo, anchored at Cap Corse for the night. From a distance he saw that sacrifices were about to be conducted by the pagans and immediately descended with all his people to attend. On that day they were slaying a bull “to their devils.” The use of mercimonia for cargo identifies it as goods for sale, from which it is often inferred that Eusebius was a merchant. The bishop quips that he disagrees, that Eusebius left his precious cargo (Julia) in Corsica. The choice of a bull, Poseidon’s animal, suggests that they had intruded on the yearly rites of the sacrum promontorium.
While they were celebrating by becoming intoxicated and Saint Julia was sighing deeply for their error it was announced to Felix by his satellites that there was a girl in the ship who derided the worship of the gods. This “son of the serpent” asked Eusebius, “Why did not all who are with you come down to worship our gods? I heard that there is a girl who derides the names of our gods.” Eusebius replied “I was not successful in moving the girl from the superstition of the Christians nor was I able to bring her to our religion by threatening. If she were not necessary because of her most faithful service I would already have had her tortured.”
Then one of his advisors gave him some options: “Either compel her to give offerings to our gods, or give her to me in exchange for whichever four of my handmaidens please you, or for the price that was set for her.” Eusebius replied: “If you wanted to give me all your property it would not come to the value of her service.”
As to why he did not just take the girl by eminent domain, Vitensis gives the answer by calling Eusebius civis. The penalty for disrespecting the rights of Roman citizens was severe, and the girl was the property of Eusebius. He could do as he liked with her. However, disrespecting the state gods was a crime punishable by death, which the magistrate could only overlook at his own risk.
Having gotten counsel the “most poisonous serpent” prepared the banquet, where Eusebius became intoxicated and fell into a deep sleep. Straightway “a raging mob of gentiles” boarded the ship and placed Julia on the shore. Felix said: “Sacrifice to the gods, girl. I will give your master as much as he likes and dissolve the bond of your state.” The tribunician power included manumission. However, Julia replied:
“My liberty is the service of Christ, whom I serve every day with a pure mind. As for that error of yours, I not only do not venerate it, I detest it.”
The tribune ordered that she be struck blows to the face. That done, she said that as Christ was struck for her, why should she not be struck for him? Then “the most cruel serpent” ordered that she be “tortured by the hair”, later described as mollitia, “diminishment” of her hair. Then she was flogged, to which she replied in the same way, that if Christ was flogged and crowned with thorns for her, why should she not endure this diminishment of the hair, which she calls the vexillum fidei, the “flag of faith?” The “serpent”, fearful of being indicted for cruelty, hurried the process along by ordering “the handmaiden of Christ” to be placed on the patibulum of a cross. Eusebius was awakened. As he let go the bonds of sleep, the saint, with mind released from the flesh, victress over suffering, took happy flight with the angels to the stars of heaven.
(text adapted from Wikipedia under Creative Commons License)
IMAGE CREDIT: Maxim Massalitin – Creative Commons License via Wikimedia Commons.